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Head for the hills: Virus clampdowns crush Swiss city…

By Cecile Mantovani

LA TOUR-DE-PEILZ, Switzerland, Aug 6 – For Frenchwoman Annick Weber, the Swiss shores of Lake Geneva were just the place for a getaway during the coronavirus pandemic.

Eager for a holiday with husband Christophe, she thought the French Riviera was too distant, too crowded, and too complicated.

“So we chose Switzerland because it is not too far, it’s beautiful and it is calm. We hope to not have too many people and more space to visit, go for walks, enjoy ourselves and get some rest during our holidays,” she said.

But as much as Switzerland seeks to parlay its squeaky-clean image to promote tourism, a sharp divide is emerging as people flock to mountains and lakes while avoiding city centres, where hotels are suffering.

Overnight stays at Swiss hotels plunged a record 47.5% in the first half of 2020, with foreign demand down by three-fifths.

In June stays fell 62%, even after the government relaxed restrictions and opened borders to members of the Schengen passport-free zone.

“The impact is absolutely catastrophic,” said Thierry Lavalley, president of the Geneva Hotel Association.

He said Geneva’s hotel business was in “intensive care”, with around 40 hotels shut.

Four out of five overnight hotel stays in Geneva are by people travelling from abroad. That has all dried up.

Summer travellers from Asia, the Middle East and North America are absent, Lavalley said. People from these regions face 10-day Swiss quarantines.

“We don’t make it easy for them. They are not allowed to enter Switzerland freely and this is extremely difficult to find flights that come in Geneva to bring those travellers. So this is really an apocalyptic situation, nothing is done to help.”

He estimated Geneva hotels’ revenue could drop 75-80% versus 2019. The canton’s hotels and restaurants employ 15,000, of whom 12,000 are in state-supported part-time working schemes.

For Marie Forestier, director of the Bon Rivage hotel in La Tour-de-Peilz that reopened in May, business has picked up since mid-July thanks to last-minute customers.

“There is a lot of work, but the team is united, and this is really great. But we still think of this very uncertain future.” (Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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